Aug 21 2013

by Laura Leigh Packard

A Southern Gal’s Goodbye to a New England Summer


That’s way too soon to say good bye to summer.

I know there are a bunch of you out there, and believe me… I have my days too, who can’t wait for the first day of school. Quiet kitchens, empty bathrooms and the absence of AM sumo wrestling matches on the fancy Orientals are all exceptional reasons to wait with bated breath for that morning to come.

It’s just because I live my life by an academic calendar instead of the usual one, it feels like not only a goodbye to summer but to a whole other year. It’s Auld Lang Syne in the humid heat; a nostalgic, bittersweet farewell to the good old times and to remembering past friendships as well.

So even though Labor Day is our official send-off of summer, the start of school is the adieu to long weekends of staying up late with cousins; it’s the parting hugs to camp friends and counselors; it’s the taking leave of uninterrupted family time and togetherness; it’s the goodbye-for-now to spontaneous road trips, long lazy days at the beach and early evening bike rides down the street.

It’s time to say “see you next summer” as we prepare for the hustle and bustle of yet another fast-paced year.

If you’ve been reading my column for the past four years, most of you will know we’ve been going to Lake Winnipesaukee up in New Hampshire during the summer for over a decade now. It’s a tradition we carry on that has been in Charlie’s family for four generations. It’s where we spend time with first, second, third cousins, aunts and uncles, and many friends who have become family to us.

It’s hard to say goodbye to all of them.

Another tradition has popped up these past 5 or 6 years-a roof top party at our Boston friend’s Mike and Donna Roger’s house on the tiny island of Pistol before we all part for yet another year.

Pistol is not even 5,000 narrow square feet but it is big enough to house a small bungalow, two docks, a gazebo, and several decks that jut out over the rocks that anchor the island safely to the bottom of lake. It is 360 degrees of pure, breathtaking beauty. It seems fitting that we all congregate at a sacred spot where we seem to be smack down in the middle of it all- this gorgeous spring-fed lake and all of our shared memories that flock there.

Before the Roger’s owned Pistol, another family grew up and threw parties together on that teeny island. What’s even more fascinating is they kept a journal of every summer season, which would run from the end of May to the beginning of September, from 1938 until 1988. For 50 years, they, the host and hostess Mr. and Mrs. A. Le MacPhail, kept a Log Book of Pistol Island. It’s a detailed account of family, friends, laughter, nature, loss, gains…, I guess, would be what this journal is about. And how lucky are we all to be able to read what was left behind, as well as continue its ongoing traditions by adding recollections of our own.

The book begins with two separate inscriptions on the first two pages:



We request you place herein your name and your address in case any silver is gone, and your comment on your visit in case they (your host and hostess) want to invite you again.

I’ll share with you now my favorite entry:

Sept. 5, 1938: Scouts May and Phillips together with that MAN AMONG MEN- AND LEADER OF THE BEAVER PATROL, DR. SHARK arrived breathless and ecstatic. Scout Phillips announced “There’s wine in the air, girls.” Scout May allowed that was fine for them as they liked wine but she’d have a teeeeeeensey weeeeeeensey shot of Scotch on account of she thinks its better on her stummick.

One page later…

Everyone except Dorothy asks for another Scotch which we have straight- no clean boiled water, yet. Fire smoking. Leader Shark feels- the old woodsman’s intuition, folks- that something must have happened to Scout May.

Scout May removed from inside of stove where she had gotten wedged doing something she had no explanation. Fire beaten out of Scout May’s clothing. Everyone one has another Scotch.

Scout May warned to keep out of stove or she’ll be given ten deeeeeemerits. Scout May has two more small Scotch’s.

Scout Phillips drapes herself in the American Flag upon when she is yelled at by Scout May for degrading it on the ground- so she goes for more Scotch. Fire out. Fire restarted. Still no water.

Scout May asked again to puleeeeese keep the heck out of the firebox.

Someone is asking for steak- we suspect its Scout May seeing as Scout Phillips is lying on the ground singing “glory, glory, hallelujah.”

Captain Bligh “shoots the sun” and announces he doesn’t know where he is.
Water boiling-set out to cool. Everyone has a small Scotch while they wait.

Captain Bligh says there is only one bottle left and be careful. Captain Bligh burns finger testing water to see if it is cool enough to put in Scotch. Takes small Scotch as therapeutic measure.

Scout May now lying limp on float. I think Scout Phillips fell into lake. Off to hide last bottle of Scotch.

Here are a few more:

June 18th, 1939: Roast duck- the island has at last arrived at the point of serving delicacies. Bar discovered two ducks, one alive and one roasted in the chimney. Heard cries all morning. Told it was in my head.

May 25th, 1941: Started from Boston at 3:30. Stopped at Carpenter’s and had dinner. Polly sipped from the high chair. She rode for 2 hours which I think is pretty good. Cried when she was aroused so held her in front of the fire. Her first ride in the canoe was not particularly exciting. Made Polly’s formula on wood stove. She hasn’t seen the Ossipee’s, yet!

July1st, 1941: Hot and muggy in the city. Heavenly here. Another duck, perhaps one found in the fireplace, has evidently built her nest under the house and though it is late for hatchlings, she acts as if she has a nest full of eggs there. She breaks our hearts flying and swimming around the island- squeaking. Another duck conducts her brood, numbering 17, by the island every night on foraging parties.

July 6th, 1941: The island is lovely now. If I sit around and relax the way I may have 20 years from now- I would tell her about the birds singing all day and the Ossipees and the water so clear and the sun- but because I don’t, let’s just say it’s been swell and that we have missed our baby daughter.

The life of the MacPhail’s unfolds for 500 pages. 500 pages of 50 summers. It’s hail and farewell over and over again. Maybe we love to usher in the beginning, yet hate to say goodbye, because summer is so special and magical and child-like, care-free, that we worry deep-down there won’t be another like it? That “real” life, the hard parts will once again rear their ugly head reminding us all that anything can change at any moment.

But maybe it’s in times like these we should remember that, as sure as the seasons change and the sturdy, solid thump of time rushes on; traditions anchor us together in this vast world of change and doubt. And these traditions- these comforts- are what summer is all about.

So, farewell summer and hail to whatever the “new” year may bring.

See you next year.


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